Seconds
The Stooges - Penetration



stylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.

The song awakes: the numb-toothed crunch of a Richards’ riff, a sleaze breeze that rustles through its brain and bones, knocks the newsprint blanket from its body and rises from its alleyway bed. The Stooges’ James Williamson mimes “Keef” selflessly, allowing the line to walk its own Vitus Danse, an advance more than an affliction, a sleeping prick tickled by blood-red nail tips and awakened into action.

“Penetration” sets the veil afire, dispensing with walking-on-eggs innuendo and confronts the listener with some of the trashiest porn rock ever put to tape. Its import is myriad; even point-of-view is something to be mined, walked like a winding street corner recessed with shadows, sluts emeritus, handshake drugs, street urchin seemingly left for dead. Iggy’s lyrics, at once forthright and hedging, take every liberty afforded, delighted and emboldened by their ambiguity.

“PEN-eh-TRAYte / PEN-eh-TRAYte me / So fine / So fine / So fine,” Iggy spits, his mouth clenching vowels and smashing consonants together like trashcan lids; his p’s popping corks, their sudsy milk puddling around their bases; his adulation manipulatively hyperbolic, a heavy stoking hand for tangled, filthy tresses. Lingering on these words should do more than explain what the case is: it should offer intension up on a platter. But it does neither. If anything, basic analysis invites confusion rather than clarity. And it’s at that very moment when “Penetration” becomes more than the sum of its sordid details: an eyewitness account from fucker and fuckee, a play-by-play, stroke-for-stroke, a pornographic performative statement declaring its own doing even as cock and cunt scoff at bullshit semiotics.

Alternatively, the song is blood-engorged pining cogently sound-tracked, given a bullhorn to blow into while it roils and writhes, begging for touch and taste, losing any notion of reason in a wet, hormonal squall. “I get ex-SIGH-ted / I get ex-SIGH-ted,” Iggy echoes, admitting a breath later that he’s alone, so fine, alive. Significantly, the band stays in lock, the perfect ‘Stones strut enunciated by a simple and simultaneously jarring celesta line, strangely fragile tinkles—a rack of hollowed out rat skulls tapped with a junky’s cooking spoon. Scott Asheton’s snare/kick combos tip a hat to Charlie Watts, slinking, snapping: a measured pace, an ever stiffening stroke. The instrumental indifference to Iggy’s vocal spectacle accumulates tension when it should just allow for drift. Williamson, refusing to chase Iggy, yields to this inclination; flailing blindly, he manically scraping notes from his guitar’s neck as so much brittle, dead skin.

Iggy eventually embraces some tired Morrisonian urban mythos: the city as primal energy, a receptacle in which to mix equal parts predatory violence and insatiable sexuality. Contextually, this serves to confuse the program, calling to mind worn Hollywood Boulevard whores, neon arabesques; a cheap, quick suck from a hot mouth studded with nicotine-stained teeth. Traffic lights going from yellow to red, hands crushed around an undulating head of fake hair.

When the song begins to sound cyclical, automatic, Iggy returns to his object, either an indifferent constituent or pure fucking focus. His words urge, bate, taunt, command: “Come on and take me / come on and take me / I’m UH-LYVE / I’m UH-LYVE / Stay down / Stay down / I feel FINE / Everytime / PEN-eh-Tray-SHUN.” Williamson responds finally, his guitar a mess of atonal ejaculate, each riff heaving, broken down, rolling into fade out, backing vocals tracked at the curtain’s back, cooing “Bay-bay” in a stupid, horny doo-wop.

Plenty of tunes have walked into the boudoir and taken up the pillow talk. Some dealing frankly—Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” Led Zep’s “Lemon Song,” Prince’s “Darling Nikki”—others taking the high road of suggestion: Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,” The Who’s “Pictures of Lily,” both densely detailing pleasure at the hands of one’s self. But none have come on as brazen as “Penetration,” a song so convincingly confused of its own topic it can’t help but not shake its character—a libidinal parody of both male and female, in love with lust and content to fuck itself to death.


By: Stewart Voegtlin
Published on: 2007-09-18
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